Log In
Saturday 24th August 2019

The internet is changing our memory

19th July 2011

Researchers say that our use of the internet and computers to help us store knowledge and remember things is changing the way our memories work.


Writing in journal Science, researchers said the very nature of human memory had been affected by the relatively new technology.

Nowadays, many people will think of computers first when presented with difficult questions.

Participants in psychological experiments did not store information in their memory as effectively when they knew that it would be available to them later on a computer.

However, they did recall in more detail where the information they needed was located.

The researchers began studying "transactive memory" between couples in long-term relationships.

Now, they say that the internet also functions as a transactive memory keeper for people who use it regularly.

The study, led by Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University, was designed to look at transactive memory, or the idea that there are external memory sources.

Initially, researchers looked at how we use other people as the keepers of our information and memories.

Sparrow said that society as a whole tended to assign the job of expertise in certain subjects to certain people.

Such people were then made responsible for certain types of information, she said.

Study co-author, Harvard University researcher Danial Wegner, first coined the term "transactive memory" in a book chapter about how couples store knowledge between them.

Titled "Cognitive Interdependence in Close Relationships", Wegner's work concluded that couples who had been together for a long time relied on each other as memory banks.

Sparrow said people's use of the internet had provided a new testing ground for the theory of transactive memory.

The researchers used a modified form of the Stroop test, which presents a word describing a colour in a different coloured font from the colour being described.

The test helped the team decide whether participants naturally gravitated towards thinking about the Internet and computers when asked tough questions.

The test can also identify topics that participants may already be thinking about.

In a second experiment, researchers gave study subjects a number of facts, telling half of them to store them for future retrieval on a computer, and the other half that they would be erased.

The "erase" group showed a better ability to remember the facts, while the computer group showed a better ability to remember where on the computer they had been stored, but a poorer memory for the facts themselves.

Sparrow said the findings showed that we tended not to bother to remember things that we knew we could find on the Internet at any time.

But she said Google was not necessarily making us stupider.

Instead, she said, people were simply organising vast amounts of available information in a more accessible way.

She said the skill at a premium in a highly wired world was the ability to remember where to find things, not the ability to remember the things themselves.

Humans behaved similarly when they assigned other people the task of expertise in certain topics, she added.


Share this page


kristin kristinnn

Wednesday 20th July 2011 @ 16:49

Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips

Post your comment

Only registered users can comment. Fill in your e-mail address for quick registration.

Your email address:

Your comment will be checked by a Healthcare Today moderator before it is published on the site.

Mayden - Innovative cloud-based web development for the healthcare sector
© Mayden Foundation 2019